Review Detail

Kids Fiction 88
Timely Tale of War Time Library
Overall rating
 
4.3
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
5.0
Nour lives in Damascus, a city she loves and which lives up to the meaning of its name, which is often described as "fragrant". She and her cousin Amir love rambling around the city, and wish to have a secret club that would meet in the storeroom of Nour's father's bakery. When the war comes to their neighborhood, they hide in a nearby basement. The fighting wears on, and they spend many nights hiding in the basement, although there is some time during the day when people can go out for more supplies. Buildings are destroyed, and things are very difficult. Nour notices that books help people pass the time, and starts to pick up books that she sees spilling out of abandoned buildings or lying on the street. Soon, her family's home is filled with them, and her parents want to know her plan. She and Amir put together a secret library in the basement of a damaged building that still has some people living in the upper floors. The word spreads about this precious resource, and soon they have a large number of people using their collection for all kinds of reasons; finding medical information, teaching children, or reading to forget the horrors of war. Books, after all, "don't fight with each other like people do".
Good Points
This timely tale also includes information about Syria and Aleppo at the end of the book, as well as information about famous libraries through history. There is an author's note that informs us that this book is based on the real life library that children put together in Syria.

The illustrations are rendered in beautiful shades of teals, browns, and reds, and the illustrator does an interesting job of playing with the saturation of these tones to indicate whether the moods and settings are dark or light. The prewar pictures have a lot of white space on the page, with light colors of teal, and the basement features very dark colors of it. This was very striking. There is an impressionist feel to the pictures, and the roughly done lines give a feeling of motion to the pictures.

It's good to see Nour and Amir's life before the war, and with what is currently going on in Syria and now Ukraine, this is an excellent book to introduce what children go through during times of war to young readers, but also shows the resiliciency and hope of the young.

There are a lot of picture books about libraries and reading, but not as many that show libraries set up during wartime situations. Stamaky's Alia's Mission gives a graphic novel treatment to a similar setting in Iraq. This is a great book to pair with Tokuda-Hall's Love in the Library, which covers a library that was created in a Japanese internment camp, and has a similar feeling of hope. Tate's William Still and His Freedom Stories also would be a good companion for this one, and talks about the power of words during the time of the Underground Railroad in the US.
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